An old man came to town
Dressed in screaming leaves
His talk was a mumble
But his eyes were burning
He said he was a prophet
Sent to people of the land
Who live in error manifest
But he only saw funny men in blue
Latticed him in a net
Who threw a million stars at him
And dragged him through the
Cobbled streets of the town…
Strange words, I did not understand. Having grown up on the “If I have a bag of money…” stupid lyrics of Youssou N’Dour and the “Salifu Jaiteh, son of Arafang Karamo Jaiteh, father of Majula Jaiteh…ting…ting…ting…” blank lines of Jaliba Kuyateh, I couldn’t appreciate any cacophony of a canticle except it be sweet and silly.
But like Kant, the more seriously my reflection concentrates on the caged bird, my wonder and awe became ever new and increasing. I saw that although it was singing, it was in fact uncaged, had big sad eyes and was snowy white. In my years of nomadic foray into the literature of foreign lands, I had read Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings but I have not read anywhere why uncaged birds sing. And what bird is this? Certainly it is not the most regal of birds, the kumareh, and certainly it is not the nightingale or even the lyre bird. In fact it has the coarsest voice, only comparable to the Qur’anic ass or the bats of hell. It could only have been an owl.
Huh! The mist began to clear, yeah, for the owl speaks not in the simple tongue of Youssou or Jaliba. Its wisdom is encompassing as the breadth of its big eyes and its enunciation Cooke-ishly solemn.
You wrapped up in your mantle, arise and warn…
Where was that from, I asked myself. It was not original. Cursed Plagiarist! I swore, but the owl cut in:
Do not curse, listen!
Cleanse your mind
For the medium has to be fit
For the message.
Arise and warn and fear not a soul
For you have the Word
And the Word is Truth!
In the beginning,
In the hour of Dikay,
There was the Word.
In the hour of Appai,
There is still the word.
And in the hour of The One
Who will come after Appai,
There will still be the Word.
The Word has been eclipsed
But it will always be there.
Oh God! I screamed, like Thomas Moore to his daughter Alice, I told the owl with the forbidden face, “I am not the material of which martyrs are made.” I am a plain Domori Foday, paid to correct the foibles of the errant pens of those more knowledgeable than me.
Cut it, cut it!
False humility, false fears
Haven’t you learnt
From the Unlettered Bedouin
That speaking the Word
Before a tyrant is a greater jihad?
And remember, everything
From cockroaches to kings
Will come to an end.
All save the Face of Allah.
So, go to the land and tell King Appai
And his people the gods are weeping.
When did owls become spokesthings for the gods, I wondered. Truly, the end times are nigh. My poor soul!
Tell King Appai that he and his people
Above all others were granted
The greatest of favours, peace.
I was relieved that the moronic diction of the owl was coming to an end… But then it cut in:
Listen, do not think, just listen!
Tell Appai, the gods sent him,
As a messiah of the Great Society
A savant servant, no king
Tell him to sell and give
To the poor of the land
The big gowns and gilded throne
Tell Appai, the gods sent him
A calabash, not a sjambok
A giver of sweetened meat
And honeyed bread
Not a pharaoh bearing whips
Let him apply the kerr-seh
We have given him
Let him bring back
The many who have fled
Let him give back the seized homes
Stop the commissions
For their purpose and intent are now of
Lesser value than tobacco smoke
Let him open the door
To those knocking
Tell Appai that he’s a father
Not to two offspring
But a million children
Let him be wary
Of fair-weather friends
Those givers of ill advice.
Tell Appai his people are in ‘Amistad’
They cry freedom, we give it to him
To give to them, let him!
Tell him not to read the horoscopes
Of the future, rather let him read
The lips and eyes of his people.
We sent him into a barren land –
Sandy, barren and bare
But we do not want it
Watered with blood,
We want it watered
With the soft dew of mercy.
Let him remember
Green is his colour
Red is for others
Let him kiss the ground
Indeed shall we exalt those
Who lower themselves
And give them wisdom galore
Like we gave to David and Solomon
Who ruled in their youth.
We know the secrets buried in his heart
Tell King Appai, in our full lines
Are wisdom for him, let him read
In the name of a future without shadows…
The owl hooted in its coarse voice, fluttered its wings and flew into the endless grey horizon of my dream. Nothing was left but the effigy of Munch’s Screamer, standing in the desolation of Guernica. I was left shaking like a leaf hit by a gust of wind.
I wondered how an owl, even at the peak of its lucidity, could ever possess such oceanic wisdom.
But who are these gods who sent him? And wouldn’t King Appai cut off my head if I like Joseph to the pharaoh, tried to interpret to him the meaning of the full lines of this song of an owl?]]>